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AP Worldstream: Report: Nigerian politicians allied with hostage-taking militants

By: KATHARINE HOURELD
Published: Sep 27, 2006

Nigerian politicians have started allying themselves with militant groups that have kidnapped foreign oil workers as elections approach, says a report released Thursday by an international think tank.

The report by Brussels-based International Crisis Group says that while militant groups have exploited frustration with government corruption to ensure the sympathy of local communities, these same groups frequently receive money and arms from the politicians they claim to be fighting against.

“A pattern of electoral violence has taken root since the country’s 2003 elections,” it says. “A number of militant groups have begun allying themselves to local politicians with electoral aspirations … These groups and others continue to use legitimate grievances, such as poverty, environmental destruction and government corruption, to justify increasingly damaging attacks against government and oil industry targets.”

Politicians have previously hired thugs to intimidate or sometimes even murder opponents during Nigerian elections. More than 100 people died during the polls in 2003.

Three leading aspirants for political office have already been killed in the last three months.

Nigeria’s 2007 polls, in which term limits will force many incumbents to step down, are widely expected to be violent despite promises by President Olusegun Obasanjo to ensure a peaceful vote.

The International Crisis Group report warns that profits from the theft of crude oil are being funneled to gangs affiliated with politicians, and quotes a local leader as saying, “The stronger the boys are the more they think they will be used.”

Meanwhile, the gangs benefit from anger in local communities against environmental damage compensation that is frequently either inadequate or hijacked by local leaders.

“Militant groups have managed to win sufficiently broad popular support to operate openly in many communities,” the report says.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil exporter and the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the United States, has lost 800,000 barrels of crude production per day to militant attacks and kidnappings so far this year.

Despite receiving tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues last year, the majority of Nigeria’s 130 million inhabitants live in abject poverty. Anger with the government means that local communities often offer logistical or tacit support to groups who kidnap foreigners.

About 50 foreigners have been kidnapped in the Niger delta, a steamy swampland the size of Connecticut, since the beginning of the year.

The reported added that some of the most radical groups have come out in support of executing foreign oil workers, a move that has so far been resisted.

Though no foreigner has been executed after being taken hostage, the attacks haven’t been without casualties. A U.S. employee of oil and gas firm Baker Hughes Inc. was murdered while traveling in the southeastern oil hub of Port Harcourt earlier this year, and two foreign Chevron Corp. subcontractors and five Nigerians were killed in crossfire in 2004. A Nigerian employee of Royal Dutch Shell PLC who had been taken hostage died during a botched rescue attempt last month, prompting a national strike by Nigerian oil workers.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press

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